I lived in rural Floyd County, Virginia, for nine years. Living rurally means frequent deer encounters, groundhogs living under outbuildings, and not-infrequent gifts of mice and moles left by the outdoor cats (and, yes, occasionally the indoor ones, too). In my first seven years, I saw bears two or three times; in my last two years, I saw bears four or five times; one even ambled on by not 30 feet away while I sat in a clearing at a hiking and picnic spot off the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Those last two years in Floyd were rocky ones in my life. Big time. Not bad years, but years of extraordinary change and challenge, learning and growth. My surprisingly frequent bear spotting during those years inspired some curiosity and I found interpretations from around the globe that connect bears with strength and confidence, healing, groundedness, tasting the sweetness of life (think Pooh and his honey jar), and, most meaningfully to me then, a slow and quiet acceptance of the time things take to come to fruition modeled by both hibernation and the two years cubs take before leaving their mothers.
Did some invisible force ensure that my path crossed with those of bears so that I would get these messages? As I said in my recent post about the idea of making agreements with others before we come into this life, I’m not so inclined to judge one way or another anymore. I’ll take inspiration and insight wherever I can get it.
And so I read the messages ascribed to bears and I decided to do something I hadn’t done in some years to help me remember those messages: I found a pattern of a bear on Etsy and began cross-stitching.
Tasting the sweetness.
Allowing the time it would all take.
Each of these messages bubbled up for me as I worked my way through the complex pattern, stopping during the warmer months and feeling pulled to pick it back up as the days shortened and the couch again became central to my routines. On Saturday, after two and a half years of slow, inconsistent stitching, after however-many-dozens of hours and thousands of stitches, I completed the bear.
While the traits of the bear are of the sort that are perpetually meaningful, they’re not as urgently meaningful to me as they were when I pulled the first length of colorful floss through the stiff, new expanse of Aida fabric. And so it seems to go with life’s lessons: Some are temporary discomforts related to specific times of our lives while others are lessons that we will go rounds with time and again, bringing to those classrooms different tools and perspectives each time, tools and perspectives that we’ve gained with time and growth.
This time of year is particularly ripe for failing to heed the bear’s reminder that things often take time and patience. We decide to lose weight and maybe even join a gym but fly past the part where we schedule the workouts, put our gym clothes by the bed, and explore what makes it a meaningful goal; and then we get discouraged by the scale’s stubborn honesty and quickly drop the thing altogether.
We do the same thing with ah-hahs: We learn something powerful, maybe share it with a trusted confidant or two, and then check it off our to-do list and move on with life.
We cannot stop time and no matter how active and driven we are, we can only taste a selection of life’s sweetness in the years that will fill our individual lifetimes. We can, however, more fully experience our time by engaging with each successive Now to the best of our ability, by really noticing the lessons, being with the ah-hahs, and experiencing each moment for its own unique and fleeting blend of pleasure and pain.
And, if you’re so inclined, you might consider stitching or coloring or journaling as you go. Creativity can be a great mnemonic.